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Tribulations numériques du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel à l’amorce du 21e siècle

Hollywood and the Digital Revolution: New Consumers, New Markets, New Business Models

Alejandro Pardo


L’histoire d’Hollywood est intrinsèquement liée à l’histoire du développement technologique. Mais la révolution numérique a transformé l’industrie du film et de la télévision d’une façon inédite jusqu’à présent. Les studios hollywoodiens ont été contraints de répondre à l’incertitude - notamment en ce qui concerne leurs profits - créée par l’apparition de l’internet et le succès des nouvelles plateformes numériques parmi la jeune génération.
En conséquence, Hollywood est face à un dilemme fondé sur deux évolutions fondamentales : d’un côté, l’émergence de nouvelles fenêtres de diffusion des produits audiovisuels (à lier à la théorie de la « longue traîne »), de l’autre la constitution d’un nouveau type de consommateur, connu comme la i-genération ou la net-génération. Ces évolutions introduisent deux questions : quelles sont les nouvelles habitudes de consommation qui définissent le profil de ce public émergeant ? Et en conséquence, quel modèle d’affaires dominera ce scénario numérique ?
Cet article tente de répondre à ces deux questions en dépeignant le cadre des bouleversements présents et passés auxquels fait face l’industrie du divertissement. Dans un premier temps, j’examinerai les traits dominants du consommateur émergeant et les éléments les plus significatifs de l’économie numérique au regard du modèle de la « longue traîne ». Dans un second temps, je décrirai les réactions d’Hollywood à ce nouveau scénario numérique et les nouveaux modèles d’affaires adoptés par les grands studios hollywoodiens relatifs aux téléchargements des films et des programmes de télévision. Enfin, je conclurai par quelques remarques destinées à tracer le cadre mouvant de l’industrie du divertissement et sa recherche de nouvelles stratégies de rentabilité.

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Being or Not Being Digital

1In the mid-1990s, Nicholas Negroponte announced in his famous book Being Digital: “I am convinced that by the year 2005 Americans will spend more hours on the Internet (or whatever it is called) than watching network television” (Negroponte, 1995: p. 98). Although this prediction has not yet been fulfilled to the letter, the truth of what he argued is likely to be confirmed in the near future. Effectively, as Newsweek graphically illustrated in July 2010, under the provocative title “How the Digital Revolution Changed Our World”, time spent on the Internet by the average US citizen has grown from 2.7 hours per week to 18 hours in the last decade. And the amount of downloads for entertainment content on iTunes surpasses 10 billion (Newsweek, 2010).

2Something is changing in our planet. To get a glimpse of it, let’s take a look at the rapid expansion of the “Apple ecosystem”. Since 2001, Steve Jobs’ company has sold more than 140 million iPods which amount to more than 30% of the company’s annual income. In addition, the success of the iPhone has no precedent. The company forecast the figure of 100 million iPhones in the whole world for 2011. The recent launch of the iPad has surpassed all expectations (15 million sold in the first year). As a result, following the market-launch of the iTunes Music Store, the Apple brand has commercialized more than 4 billion songs, more than 3 million feature films, and approximately 100 million TV programs and series since October 2005. In 2010, Apple accounted for 48.8% of all online movie revenues outside the US (McBride, 2006; Fritz, 2007; Screen Digest, 2007, 2011; Grover, 2008; Hesseldahl, 2008a, 2008b). This iPod/iPad generation epitomizes the new profile of users whose audiovisual experience is based on all sorts of media platforms and whose profile mirrors to a large extent that of the cinema-going public and of those who play videogames. For that reason, Apple competitors (Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc.) are trying to catch up the train of present-and-future technology.

3How will such a revolution affect the movie business? According to some recent market indicators, there is no reason to be worried. According to Screen Digest, consumer expenses on online movies and TV series in the USA doubled (from 200 to 400 million US dollars) between 2008 and 2010—making rental returns more solid than retail. Similarly, revenues from the Western European online movie market were worth 50 million euros in the first half of 2010, twice the amount made in 2009 (Screen Digest, 2009, 2010a, 2010b). Finally, the total online revenues for international territories (outside the US) increased to more than 276 million US dollars in 2010, a 117.5% rise over 2009 (Screen Digest, 2011).

4Hollywood is thus standing at a new digital (and global) crossroads, charted by two basic movements: on one hand, the emergence of a new market for the commercialization of audiovisual products (Internet, IPTV, digital reproduction devices, mobile telephones), referred to as the long tail market; and, on the other hand, the emergence of a new type of consumers, known collectively as the iPod or Net-generation (Taspscott, 2009). The two questions set out below sum up the challenges facing the major studios in Hollywood: What are the new consumer habits that define this emerging viewer/audience profile? As a consequence, what business model will define the network of relations on the Internet in regard to the commercial practices of the film and TV series industry? In other words, what are the rules governing this new market?

New Consumers for New Markets

5Marketing experts are convinced that this generation of new technology users has now reached a critical mass in numerical terms, and that their consumer behavior is markedly different. The following aspects of new consumer behaviors might be highlighted: a) a more participative and active attitude with respect to audiovisual and entertainment contents (user-generated contents); b) multi-tasking skills; c) new forms of socializing through virtual communities; d) a preference for versatility and portability over quality in consumer use –“platform agnostics”, in the words of David Denby, the renowned film critic at The New Yorker (Denby, 2006); e) new consumer behavior as a catalyst for the creation of new market niches (low demand, personalized and individually tailored consumption); and f) unconventional understandings of the free circulation of audiovisual material (piracy).

6This matrix of aspects has been distilled into the well-known slogan taken as the motto for the new media scene: “What you want, when you want, where you want and how you want”. As Michael Gubbins editor of Screen Daily calls it, remembering an iconic advertisement of the 1970s, this is the ultimate expression of ‘the Martini culture’ in our “ubiquitous leisure society”. In regard to this term, he explains:

It is the sexier big sister of the more prosaic term ICE (information, communication and entertainment) coined in India during the dotcom boom to denote a marriage of information technology and entertainment. And to an extent, both dreams have come true. It is barely impossible to walk 100m in a city in any developed country without seeing the distinctive white earphones of an iPod. Mobile gaming is expanding quickly and telephones have lost their dowdy role as a means of speaking to people, to become portable electronic leisure centers (Gubbins, 2008).

7The following question inevitably arises in this context: What rules govern business in this new world of commercial opportunities? Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, christened this recently discovered “gold mine” with the name ‘the long tail’, a term that has since become common currency (Anderson, 2004, 2006). His argument, which soon drew on empirical evidence from an analysis of several companies in the sector, runs as follows: commercialization on the Internet is not a marginal market; rather, it is an emerging market whose value constantly increases. This argument for Internet commercialization differs for three reasons: a) the Internet brings together a dispersed and fragmented audience which, as a whole, constitutes a significant market; b) distribution costs are eliminated and product consumption becomes more personalized and attuned to the demands of these ‘digital natives’; and c) popularity is no longer the key factor in market value; in fact, the Internet is especially apt (and profitable) for the sale of relatively unknown or minority interest products (Anderson, 2004: p. 174-177).

8Thus, the emergence of this new virtual market undermines one of the classical laws of consumer goods economics—20% of products account for 80% of sales (the Pareto principle). Having analyzed the online services of companies such as Amazon, Netflix and Wal-Mart, Anderson concludes that the proportion of products that contribute to overall profitability in virtual markets might be as high as 98%. This conclusion does not mean that the most successful titles in conventional distribution channels cease to be so in the virtual world; however, less well-known or minority interest products also become more easily available and are acquired by the fragmented audience(s) of which the virtual market is composed. As a result, a specific catalogue of audiovisual goods may repay on the outlay involved in their production, and profit margins may rise.

9Finally, Anderson outlines three rules to govern this new business model, entirely focused on the leading role and singularity of the consumer: 1) availability of a wide range of titles (“make everything available”); 2) competitive pricing in comparison to other distribution channels (“cut the price in half; now lower it”); and 3) personalized consumption (“help me find…”) (ibid.: 174-177). And he concludes: “The companies that will prosper will be those that switch out of lowest-common-denominator mode and figure out how to address niches” (ibid: 177).

10However, this theory has been criticized by some well-known scholars. Founding her reflection on her own empirical research, Anita Elberse (Harvard Business School) states that the tail may be long but is equally flat in terms of benefits. In addition, she affirms that compared with heavy users, light users have a disproportionately strong preference for the more popular offerings, while both groups appreciate hit products more than they like those in the tail. As she concludes:

It is therefore highly disputable that much money can be made in the tail. In sales of both videos and recorded music –in many ways the perfect products to test the long-tail theory– we see that hits are and probably will remain dominant. That is the reality that should inform retailers as they struggle to offer their customers a satisfying assortment cost-efficiently. And it’s the unavoidable challenge to producers. The companies that will prosper are the ones most capable of capitalizing on individual best sellers (Elberse, 2008: p. 96).

11In my view, both interpretations can be compatible. On the one hand, it is clear that Internet has widened the commercial exploitation for all sorts of products and, therefore, has given opportunity to those considered “marginal” or “obscure”—with no chance of commercial exposure through the conventional windows. On the other hand, hits will always be hits. They will continue to act as the locomotive for entertainment consumption and will therefore remain as the hard core of the business.

12In this regard, after a few false starts, a number of the changes to business strategies adopted by Hollywood studios in recent times have attempted to take the above-mentioned principles into account. For any key player in the entertainment industry aimed at a ubiquitous leisure society, the challenge is to understand this new scenario, where the ‘Martini culture’ meets the ‘long tail’ markets.

Hollywood at the Digital Crossroad: A Management Clash?

13Contrary to what may be assumed, Hollywood has been quite reluctant to face up these profound changes. Two insiders, Peter Dekom and Peter Sealy, asked in 2003:

How has Hollywood responded to the huge changes afoot? Unfortunately, not very well so far. First, Hollywood has ignored the facts both inside and outside the industry… [It] has fought to put the technological genie back in the bottle. The Hollywood approach: change must be legislated or litigated to a stop (Dekom & Sealey, 2003: p. 2-3).

14Another expert analyst, Joseph D. Lasica, pointed to this resistance from the Hollywood majors, assessed in 2005:

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1 DECE is made up of 60 members, which covers most major entertainment suppliers and device manufacturers. Founding members include Best Buy, Netflix, Comcast, Cox Communications, BSkyB, Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, IBM, HP, Toshiba, Samsung, LG, Nokia, Motorola, Dolby, Adobe and Sonic Solutions. While Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, Lionsgate and NBC Universal are supporters, Disney is focusing on its similar Disney Studio All Access offering. Apple is also holding out from joining the organization, although it’s likely that DECE’s companies will create apps that will play UltraViolet content on devices like the iPod, iPhone and iPad (Graser, 2011).

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Alejandro Pardo, « Hollywood and the Digital Revolution: New Consumers, New Markets, New Business Models », Mise au point [En ligne], 4 | 2012, mis en ligne le 25 juin 2012, consulté le 16 décembre 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/map.246

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Alejandro Pardo

Professeur de production film et TV et de management de projets audiovisuels à l’Université de Navarre (Espagne). Il est diplômé de UCLA et de la Media Business School de Madrid. Il a publié The Europe-Hollywood Coopetition: Cooperation and Competition in the Global Film Industries (2007) et dirigé The Audiovisual Management Handbook (2002). Il est l’auteur de nombreuses contributions à des ouvrages collectifs sur les industries du film et de la télévision, dont La nueva era de la televisión (2001) et Cinema Do Mundo : Indústria, política e mercado : Europa (2007). Il a publié dans des revues comme The Journal on Media Management (Taylor & Francis) and Film International (Intellect). Alejandro Pardo est membre de l’European Media Management Association (EMMA), de la Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) et de l’European Network for Cinema and Media Studies (NECS).

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